Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"That's Not How The Force Works!"

Brad Sullivan
St. Mark’s, Bay City
May 29, 2016
Proper 4, Year C
Luke 7:1-10

“That’s Now How the Force Works!”

The faith in Jesus of the centurion in today’s Gospel reading was absolute and his faith reminds me of the faith of another soldier, a man named Finn, former Storm Trooper turned good guy in the latest Star Wars movie.  Finn’s faith was not in Jesus but in the Force; for those who aren’t familiar with the films, the Force is a mystical, well “force” which some people in particular can partner with to do extraordinary things.  They call it using the Force, but there are only a very few people who can use the Force, and they must be trained in order to do so.  Finn was not one these people, in fact, he knew almost nothing about the Force, but he had heard about it, and he believed in it. 

He had been a soldier, a Storm Trooper for the evil First Order which was trying to subject the entire galaxy to its tyrannical rule, and Finn decided he wasn’t going to fight and kill for them.  So he switched sides, joined the Resistance, and went back to a First Order base to try to disable their defenses.  Being a former soldier of the First Order, it seemed that he would be able to do so, until it turned out that he actually had no idea how to do so.  He had returned there to save a friend who had been captured.  The man who was there with him was rather incredulous, reminding him that all of their friends and indeed the entire galaxy were counting on them to disable the defenses.  So Finn, who knew almost nothing about the Force, replied, “We’ll work it out; we’ll use the Force.” 

“That’s now how the force works,” his companion replied.  Finn knew almost nothing about the Force, and yet he trusted in the Force completely.  The centurion knew almost nothing about Jesus.  He’s never met him.  He just heard that he could heal people, and he trusted in him completely.  He believed Jesus could heal his servant, just by speaking a word.  The people around Jesus had to be thinking, “but that’s now how healing works!”  He was nowhere close to the servant at the time, and in fact had never laid eyes on the servant.  Jesus’ ability to heal an unknown, unnamed man from a great distance just by speaking a word wasn’t how healings had ever gone before, and yet the centurion trusted in Jesus that he could do it.  That’s what got Jesus’ attention, the faith of the centurion.  “Not even in Israel,” Jesus said, “[had he] seen such faith.” 

This centurion was a non-Jewish foreigner who was a part of the force used by Rome to keep their occupied territories in line.  He was likely viewed as an enemy to most Jews, possibly even to Jesus, and yet we are also told that this man had built a synagogue for the Jewish people where he lived.  Rather than treat the people harshly, which his job may have had him to, he treated his potential enemies as friends, and they in turn treated him as a friend.  By all accounts, this centurion was a good man with a bad job, following some of Jesus’ teachings without even having heard them, but even that wasn’t what got Jesus’ attention.     

The centurion’s trusting faith was what got Jesus’ attention. 

The centurion, by Roman thought was above Jesus, and yet he made no pretense about being greater than Jesus.  He was asking Jesus for help, and he understood from what he had been told about Jesus, that Jesus had authority over creation.  “I submit to you, Jesus,” was the centurion’s message.  “I’m asking you for help; I believe you can do it, and I’m not going to ask for anything more than that.  You don’t need to come here.  I don’t need to see.  I believe in you so strongly, just say the word and he can be healed.”  Those around Jesus were likely thinking, “but that’s not how healing works.”   

Maybe not before, but it certainly did that time.  The centurion trusted in Jesus, and he understood submitting to those with authority over him.  He understood Jesus to have great authority, and so he trusted in him absolutely. 

Trusting in Jesus and submitting to God’s authority ultimately means we are not in control of our lives.  We have personal agency and can make decisions, sure, but ultimately, our lives are in God’s hands, and control of our lives is an illusion.  The centurion’s faith showed that he understood his lack of control and he, a part of the conquering army of Rome, submitted himself to Jesus, an itinerant preacher from a nothing town in a conquered kingdom.  He submitted himself to Jesus because of what he had heard about Jesus, and he knew that if what he had heard was true, then he had no authority over Jesus; submission was the correct posture to take.

For us, or at least for me, submitting our lives to Jesus is not always the easiest thing in the world to do.  We like our illusions of control.  We trust in Jesus especially with our death, but trusting Jesus with our lives can be a little bit more tricky.  I find rather frequently that I want to fully submit my will over to him, and yet it isn’t all that easy.  There is the war within me between the flesh and the spirit which Paul wrote about in Romans 7.  The thing I want to do I don’t do, and I do the very thing I don’t want to do.  When I’m really honest with myself, I find often that I trust Jesus, but to do what exactly?  Sometimes I figure my way is good enough; at least it’s known.  Trusting my life more fully with Jesus may mean venturing out into the unknown, and being a good Episcopalian, change isn’t always my best friend.

Now, I have found when I do submit my will to Jesus, things turn out better.  I am more at peace.  Things don’t always turn out exactly how I thought they would, and usually, something of what I wanted to be has to die.  Ironically, sometimes the very thing that needs to die, along with my way of doing things, is my goal of doing the right thing and being a better person. 

That’s not because what we do doesn’t matter.  What we do matters very much, but if we could heal ourselves, we wouldn’t very well need Jesus.  I can want and try through my own efforts all I want to be better and to do better, to elevate myself, and I can succeed to some extent, but my efforts ultimately fall short of what I desire, and certainly fall short of what God desires for me.  Healing doesn’t come from my efforts, from me elevating myself, but from what the Rev. Canon John Newton calls, “falling into grace.” In his book, Falling Into Grace, he says we experience grace and healing not by striving harder and elevating ourselves, but rather:  we see the cross, accept acceptance, and wait in weakness. 

That’s what the centurion did.  Saw (or heard about Jesus) and sought him out.  He then sent emissaries to Jesus, just as he was.  He didn’t send soldiers to force Jesus to come, and he didn’t try to wow Jesus with his greatness.  He just offered who he was and gave his request.  Then he waited.  No mighty act, no cajoling, the centurion just waited in weakness. 

Waiting in weakness can be the biggest part of the struggle.  We tend to want thing now.  Amazon can overnight our purchases, and yet for Jesus, we have to wait, but that waiting can be key to our healing, and it can also mean waiting when we don’t get the healing we want.  Then we find out what healing we really need.  That happens as we wait in weakness and see the cross again, our own desire for healing being crucified as we accept not only God’s acceptance of us, but accept our own acceptance for life as it is, for us as we are, and then wait on God healing us in ways we were too blind even to know we needed.

We tend to know or to think we know exactly what kind of healing we want or need.  I think that’s why I often struggle with the healing stories of Jesus.  It’s not because I don’t believe in the stories.  I do.  I believe Jesus healed many people, that he loved and cared for people with a fire that we can only imagine.  I believe Jesus had power and authority over all of creation.  He still has that power and authority.  That’s why I often have a hard time with the healing passages.  I haven’t seen a miraculous, instantaneous healing, the kind we hear about in the story we heard today.  I’ve heard stories of modern day healing, and I do believe that miraculous healing still happens, but I struggle with the healing texts because I haven’t personally witnessed it. 

Then, I wonder about why sometimes people are healed and why sometimes people are not.  Why are not all followers of Jesus healed?  There are some simple answers to the questions of why and why not, answers which I think are completely false.  “We or those we love don’t believe strongly enough or in quite the right way and so Jesus doesn’t heal us.”  Totally false.

The most honest answer I can give as to why healing sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t is, “I don’t know.”  I don’t know how Jesus works, but I trust in him.  I trust in his goodness and love, and I ask him to heal the parts of me that don’t.

I haven’t experienced as much healing of the kind we heard in the story today, but what I have experienced is healing of souls and lives.  That goes to the primary healing Jesus came to give, the healing of our souls and the healing of our lives.  That healing comes as we see the cross of Jesus, acknowledging that death will come to us, even the death of parts of our lives that we may not want to die.  We then accept God’s acceptance of us, just as we are.  We needn’t elevate ourselves to be enough for God, in fact we can’t elevate ourselves.  Rather, God accepts us as we are, and our challenge is to trust in God’s acceptance and love of us.  Then, we wait in weakness for Jesus to transform us through his grace. 

We don’t necessarily know what that transformation and healing will be or how it will happen.  Like Finn in Star Wars, we have no idea how the Force works, but we trust in it anyway.  Ultimately we’re not even entirely sure how Jesus works, and yet we submit to him and trust in him just the same.  We submit and trust in Jesus because of the fierce love Jesus holds for us and the healing he desires for our souls and lives.  Like the centurion, trust in Jesus’ love, accept Jesus’ acceptance, and then wait in weakness for Jesus’ grace and healing.  Amen.

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